President's Column September 2019

Shalom.

TBT is already gearing up for the end of summer and start of fall. The clergy, choir, and musicians are hard at work to prepare a meaningful and memorable High Holiday experience. The religious school has the teachers it needs and is getting ready to welcome the students back. The TBT Preschool (just renamed from the Nursery School) is excited to be opening its doors soon for another year—and it still has openings if you or a friend is looking for an enriching experience for a young child. And in September we return to our regular, non-summer Shabbat rhythm of 7:15pm Friday services, except for the 6:00pm First Friday service that starts with a cozy “preneg.”

The Fall will also be a time of renewal for TBT. You will see work being done on the first phase of our renovation project, to expand our parking capacity. And there will be congregational meetings to keep you all informed of our progress and to share ideas as we move forward together.

Looking forward to a wonderful year ahead. Thank you for your membership and being part of the TBT community.

- Jeff

Rabbi's Column September 2019

Dear Friends,

Curiously enough, the month of September coincides in its entirety with the Jewish month of Elul. September 1, 2019 is also Elul 1, 5779. It means that this entire month is dedicated to preparing for the High Holy Days. What does it mean to prepare? What does Rosh Hashanah mean to you? I find these holidays both exhilarating and utterly exhausting. The exhaustion, I find, is deeply connected to the demand to assess our lives. What is important? What really matters? How am I utilizing this one life that is mine alone?

I want to share some responses to these questions that come straight from the brilliant Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who served as Chief Rabbi of Great Britain and now writes extensively on Jewish themes.

In the Rosh Hashana Machzor that he edited, he asks: “What does Rosh Hashana say to us? Of what is it a reminder? How can it transform our lives?” He gives responses worth of our reflection this month. They are, in brief:

1. Life is short. However much life expectancy has risen, we will never in one lifetime be able to achieve everything we might wish to achieve.
2. Life itself, each day, every breath we take, is the gift of God. Life is not something we may take for granted.
3. We are free. Judaism is the religion of the free human being freely responding to the God of freedom.
4. Life is meaningful. We are not mere accidents of matter, generated by a universe that came into being for no reason.
5. Life is not easy. Judaism does not see the world through rose-tinted lenses.
6. Life may be hard, but it can still be sweet.
7. Our life is the single greatest work of art we will ever make.

What does Rosh Hashana say to you?

L'shana tova,
Rabbi Offner

President's Column Summer 2019

Shalom.

Summer has finally arrived, and we can now open our windows, enjoy the warmth of the sun, and take walks on the beach. We can even pray at the beach, with TBT’s wonderful annual tradition of Beach Shabbat at Madison’s East Wharf Pavilion on July 19th and August 9th. Like all of our Friday night services in July and August, these services will be at 6:00 p.m. Friday nights at TBT can be part of a healthy, balanced summer diet of community and spirituality— with the long summer evenings still ahead of you after the early services.

We also will be seeing changes this summer on TBT’s grounds, while school is not in session. If you have been following our building renovation progress, or attended our fun Paving the Way barbecue recently on our patio, you will know that Phase I of our project is about to get underway with much improved entranceways from Route 79 and parking to welcome you each time you arrive at TBT. While the final landscape plan won’t be fully put into place until the end of the construction process, we will enjoy this tangible sign of moving toward TBT’s future when we all arrive for the High Holidays this fall.

Summer is too hot for a long column, so I’m off to drink an iced tea and sit on my own porch right after delivering this column to the TBT office. And let me put in a word of thanks to the TBT office staff and volunteers who diligently assemble, produce, and distribute this Shofar newsletter month after month, especially our dedicated Administrative Assistant, Bonnie Mahon.

Happy Summer!
Jeff Babbin

Rabbi's Column Summer 2019

Dear Friends,

Welcome to our “Summer” SHOFAR. Instead of a monthly newsletter, we have a July/August issue. It is time to roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer. July and August on the Shoreline are especially sweet with all sorts of opportunities to take advantage of in the summer weather and our splendid environment.

We at TBT do our own version of celebrating the summer months. Chief among them is our “Beach Shabbat.” If you have been before, you know how very special they are. We are thankful to our TBT members who live walking distance from the East Wharf Beach and have opened up their homes over the years for the sweetest of onegs following our beach services.

Please remember to bring a beach chair – and as these services have become increasingly popular, we ask that you carpool to the beach, leaving some room at the parking lot for others who also want to enjoy a Friday evening sunset.

Our July and August Shabbat services all begin at 6 PM. Other than July 19 and August 9 when we will be on the beach, our summer services will begin with a “Pre-Neg” at 6 PM followed by a short service so you can be out the door and on your way at 7-ish. If the weather is nice, we may very well have our service outside on the deck.

Add Beach Shabbat to your list of summer activities.

Hope yours is a great summer,
Rabbi Offner

President's Column June 2019

Shalom.

Fires set at two Chabad houses outside of Boston and a deadly shooting at a Chabad house near San Diego. A fire set at a mosque in New Haven. These are the most recent attacks on houses of worship in the United States in just the last month. I don’t need to list all of the other attacks on worshipers and on synagogues, churches, and mosques worldwide in the last several months. I don’t mention all of this to be an alarmist. Instead, I am heartened by the outpouring of support for all of these places of worship, with Muslims marching to support Jews, and Jews marching to support Muslims.

Our country was settled in part by those seeking the freedom to worship and follow their own consciences. We must continue to support that freedom and find ways to stem the tide of hatred directed at disrupting our way of life. As Senator Dianne Feinstein said after the Chabad of Poway shooting in California, “America stands for openness and tolerance, and those values suffer greatly from these terrible shootings.” Yet, we risk becoming numb to the violence and therefore losing the will to work hard to find solutions. In just the last couple of months, there were college and high school shootings in North Carolina and Colorado that were not even the lead story—but were “below the fold” on the front page of the paper I read—as deadly violence seems to become more of the norm in our everyday lives. Having just returned from the TBT trip led by Rabbi Offner in Vienna, Prague, Krakow, and Warsaw, we were witness to the sites and memories that told us how hate and violence can destroy the fabric of even the most developed societies of their day. I cannot in this short column provide advice on how we, in the U.S., can take steps to change course, but I can ask everyone to devote their attention to the problem so collectively we can find solutions and not accept the status quo as the new norm.

Jeff Babbin

Rabbi's Column June 2019

Note: these remarks were first shared at the TBT Annual Meeting on May 14, 2019.

As I reflect upon this past year at TBT, a phrase comes to mind: “it’s all about the people.” We have been doing a lot of talking about the building – and that is critically important – but it is critically important because it is a house of the people. I want to speak tonight a bit about the people. In particular, I want to speak about the people who live here in this building, virtually 24/7. And that means the staff. This year has been like no other in TBT’s history because we have walked through it with our new Cantor.

Cantor Stanton came to us shortly after last year’s Annual Meeting. It has been a year of transition for him and for us – a year of beautiful transition as he has become a part of our TBT family. When he interviewed for the position, we knew he had a spectacular voice. He still does. It has been enriching us, elevating our joyous moments and softening the blows of the difficult moments. What we have come to learn is that Cantor Stanton has a fabulous sense of humor, a generous, generous spirit, a big caring heart, a love of our children and a love for people of all ages. In just one year, Cantor Stanton has become family. Our thanks to him for his dedication and commitment to us.

I do believe that this June marks an anniversary. A blessed anniversary at that. We are celebrating the 5th anniversary of Kim Romine’s tenure as our Temple Administrator. Kim has a heart of gold. She also has an obsession for organization and numbers. It is an extraordinary combination. She is able to combine billing and statements and dues and payments with heart and love and soul. How fortunate we are. And Kim’s talents go beyond that as you can see her climbing to clean the gutters, noticing every nook and cranny of our fragile building, keeping her office window open so she can delight in the sounds of our Nursery School children playing in the playground – Kim is everywhere, caring for every member of this holy congregation. Thank you, Kim, for everything you do.

Bonnie Mahon is a professional in customer service and she is the first line of welcome, both at the door and on the phone. Bonnie is always happy to see you, to help you, to respond to any and every request that is made of her. As a special bonus: she loves our Hebrew School children. She knows them all by name – and she knows you by name, too. How lucky we are.

Our staff team also includes our Custodial team of Len & Dyanna and now Steven, too. Len sets up our social hall for onegs, for dinners, for special programs. He cleans the sanctuary and even polishes the Torah silver. He does it all with pleasure. Dyanna is with us every Shabbat, making oneg hosting an easy mitzvah for our members. And Steven is new to our Nursery School and their custodial needs.

Speaking of the Nursery School, we are in the midst of an enormous transition. Bernadette Stak, our Nursery School Director for the past 24 years, is leaving at the end of this school year. Bernadette is the engine behind the TBT Nursery School having such an extraordinary reputation in the community, and her children are your children, many of whom have gone on from the Nursery School to graduate from High School and college, and get married and have children. I can’t tell you how many people around town tell me that they or their children are graduates of our Nursery School.

But time marches on and changes do happen. Thanks to the guiding force of Peter Chorney and Deb Coe at the helm of our Education Committee, we have hired a brilliant successor to Bernadette. Jen Casillo is already doing her magic with the Nursery School, and I hope that everyone here at TBT can begin to know her as we have begun to know her.

TBT is all about the people. The staff….and the congregants who create holy community whenever you enter our doors. Together, we have done extraordinary things this past year, and we can look forward to a promising year ahead.

L'Shalom,
Rabbi Offner

President's Column May 2019

Shalom.

I am looking forward to many gatherings of friends, family, congregants, and community in the coming month. I am writing this just before the start of Passover, where it is so important to gather with family and friends in one’s home that we skip going to synagogue on Friday when the Seder falls on that night. Passover makes us think instead about hospitality, welcoming the stranger and the refugee into our midst (as we are thankful for our own exodus from the land of Egypt) and (of course) opening the door for Elijah! How wonderful, then, that TBT then comes together to make our synagogue our symbolic home for the communal Second Seder.

As soon as Passover ends, many TBT congregants are gathering together for a journey to the “Old World,” to Central and Eastern Europe where we will explore the ancestral homes of many American Jews but also bear witness to forces that destroyed centuries-old communities. I look forward to this TBT group adventure as well.

And right on the heels of our return from Europe will be our congregation-wide gathering—the TBT Annual Meeting on Tuesday, May 14, at 7:00 p.m. Please put this on your calendar and join us as we come together to reflect on the past year and consider the year ahead.

I also want to thank everyone who participated in another community-building event: the Social Justice Committee’s Spring Food Drive, our first food drive held entirely online, allowing us to order healthy, perishable food for delivery directly to the Branford Community Dining Room. The Committee exceeded its goal thanks to so many in our TBT community.

- Jeff Babbin

Rabbi's Column May 2019

Yom HaShoah this year will be like no other for 29 members of the TBT community. As you receive this SHOFAR, we will be in Eastern Europe, traveling from Vienna to Prague and then to Krakow and Warsaw. We will dare, with great trepidation, to visit Auschwitz, a place that cries in our souls, a land relegated to yesterday, but a place that is all too real and stands today as a memorial to the millions of Jews who were gassed and slaughtered there.

I invite you all to journey with us, if not physically, then in spirit. Assuming that this SHOFAR arrives at your door on the first of May, then you can imagine that we will already have experienced Jewish Vienna, both the Judenplatz Holocaust Memorial, the New Jewish Museum and the Stadttempel, built in 1826, and the only synagogue to have survived Kristallnact in 1938. Perhaps most important of all, we will have visited the Jewish community of 2019 and its rabbi, Rabbi Bar Ami, who will share with us the accounts of the thriving Jewish life of the local progressive Jewish community of Vienna.

On May 1st, we travel to Prague where we will spend time in the Old City to visit Prague’s beautiful Alt-New Synagogue, the Pinchas Synagogue, the Maisel Synagogue and the Spanish Synagogue. We will be on the lookout for the Golem, our dear friend who was invented in Prague to protect the Jewish people. We will be in Prague for Yom HaShoah and will note the occasion with a memorial service at the famed Jewish cemetery in the heart of the city.

We will travel from Prague to Poland, arriving in Krakow just in time to celebrate Shabbat. Our Friday night services on May 3rd will be at the Krakow JCC, a bustling and energetic center of Jewish life today. We are grateful to the community for hosting us for Shabbat services and for Shabbat dinner where we will get to sit and mingle with our Jewish counterparts in Krakow.

We pray that our visit with the Krakow JCC sustains us as we then dedicate an entire day to paying homage to the 6 million at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

We spend our last 2 days (May 5 and 6) in Warsaw. We will visit the Jewish Historical Society, the highly-rated POLIN Museum (the New Museum of the History of Polish Jews), and the Warsaw Ghetto.

These visits are sobering – but traveling with treasured synagogue family gives us strength and inspiration. So too does the cultural backdrop of Europe’s beauty – we will begin in Vienna with a Mozart and Strauss musical concert and we will end in Warsaw, the city of Frederic Chopin’s birth, with a magnificent concert of Chopin’s music.

Our tired but fulfilled travelers will be back home midweek, just in time to refresh ourselves and ready ourselves for Shabbat Services back at TBT on May 10.

L’Shalom,
Rabbi Offner

President's Column April 2019

Shalom.

In a column last year, I wrote about the importance of civility. Sad to say, the need for more civil conversation has only become more urgent by the tragic events of Pittsburgh and now New Zealand. Social media seems to have further inflamed the delusions of those who see the world through the filter of hate and distrust of people different from themselves, and thus resort to violence in pursuit of their twisted views.

I was recently in Charleston, SC, where I was reminded of a similar event in 2015 when nine black congregants were gunned down during a church service. Jews, Muslims, African-Americans – all people going about their lives, killed during communal prayer. The crisis of these events transcends any one group. Only by coming together as a community to speak out against all hate, against all groups, can we hope for a better future. There is a direct line between Pittsburgh and New Zealand. On the Friday night after the New Zealand shootings, Rabbi Offner spoke passionately against hate and violence in all of its forms and lit a candle in memory of the victims. People of all faiths have attended vigils, in Connecticut and elsewhere, to mourn the dead and support the people of New Zealand.

The holiday of Purim was celebrated shortly after the events in New Zealand. Purim can remind us of how hate toward others different from oneself can potentially lead to tragedy – but also how brave people who speak out to educate our leaders and community about the dangers of zealotry can change the conversation and lead to peaceful co-existence in a diverse society.

One final note, on a more local scale, TBT’s Social Justice Committee has organized an opportunity for us to help those in our community in need of basic sustenance. Our Spring Food Drive begins on April 1 and continues until April 19. This drive is entirely online. You can click HERE and order healthy, perishable food (including eggs, milk, fresh fruit, and vegetables) for delivery to the Branford Community Dining Room. Please partake in this important event to help our own friends and neighbors.

Jeff Babbin

President's Column

Shalom.

In a column last year, I wrote about the importance of civility. Sad to say, the need for more civil conversation has only become more urgent by the tragic events of Pittsburgh and now New Zealand. Social media seems to have further inflamed the delusions of those who see the world through the filter of hate and distrust of people different from themselves, and thus resort to violence in pursuit of their twisted views.

I was recently in Charleston, SC, where I was reminded of a similar event in 2015 when nine black congregants were gunned down during a church service. Jews, Muslims, African-Americans – all people going about their lives, killed during communal prayer. The crisis of these events transcends any one group. Only by coming together as a community to speak out against all hate, against all groups, can we hope for a better future. There is a direct line between Pittsburgh and New Zealand. On the Friday night after the New Zealand shootings, Rabbi Offner spoke passionately against hate and violence in all of its forms and lit a candle in memory of the victims. People of all faiths have attended vigils, in Connecticut and elsewhere, to mourn the dead and support the people of New Zealand.

The holiday of Purim was celebrated shortly after the events in New Zealand. Purim can remind us of how hate toward others different from oneself can potentially lead to tragedy – but also how brave people who speak out to educate our leaders and community about the dangers of zealotry can change the conversation and lead to peaceful co-existence in a diverse society.

One final note, on a more local scale, TBT’s Social Justice Committee has organized an opportunity for us to help those in our community in need of basic sustenance. Our Spring Food Drive begins on April 1 and continues until April 19. This drive is entirely online. You can click HERE and order healthy, perishable food (including eggs, milk, fresh fruit, and vegetables) for delivery to the Branford Community Dining Room. Please partake in this important event to help our own friends and neighbors.

Jeff Babbin